Catholic San Francisco


(Photo by Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco)

Two men from Kelly Avenue Catholic Worker House help arrange pumpkins and squash Oct. 21 for display at Potrero Nuevo Farm in the Tunitas Creek Valley near Half Moon Bay.

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Solidarity with needy expands coast harvest’s bounty
October 23rd, 2013
By Valerie Schmalz

The Kelly Avenue Catholic Worker House in Half Moon Bay is partnering with an organic farm to share fresh vegetables and fruits with the poor, underemployed and homeless people of the San Mateo coast community.

“It definitely helps me out every week,” said Rick Barry, as he loaded pumpkins and squash on a wooden table for display, the sun peering through the fog and the blue-green grass of the hills forming a backdrop to the three acres of vegetable plots at Potrero Nuevo Farm. “It’s beautiful to just come down here. We get paid, but we also get to eat.”

Twice a week from May through November, the Catholic Worker House brings eight to 10 area residents to help harvest produce for distribution at free community breakfasts at Coastside Lutheran Church and a weekly Table of Plenty dinner at Our Lady of the Pillar Parish. The Catholic Worker House also teams up with the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society for its ministry of support to area poor.

A grant from Philanthropic Ventures Foundation provides a stipend, so the workers, usually unemployed farm workers and folks living in boats or cars in the harbor area, receive a wage and also can take home as much produce as they want.

“We try to live, to be conscious of the economy of abundance, the economy of grace, the economy you read about in the Gospels,” said Eric DeBode who runs the Kelly Avenue Catholic Worker House, as he walked among the corn stalks, pumpkin vines, and piled-up cabbages and past the raspberry bushes of the Potrero Nuevo Farm. “We didn’t get many strawberries this year,” he said. “The deer ate them.”

“I always need gas money,” said a second man arranging pumpkins, who identified himself as Todd. “It is a great way to pick up some supplemental income. We spend eight hours (a week). We get to take as much produce as we want, give it to other people.”

“I’ve definitely eaten a lot more vegetables recently, working in the fields,” Todd said.

The Potrero Nuevo Farm is owned by two former San Franciscans, Christine Pielenz and Bill Laven, who moved to Half Moon Bay and bought the farm in 2008 to grow and share organic produce.

In 2012, the couple decided to just give away the produce they did not eat, rather than trying to sell it via a community produce association and farmers market. From the beginning, Pielenz said, they hired farm managers and the farm has never been about making money. The farm also contributes to an organization that helps farmworkers in nearby Pescadero.

Catholic Worker House serves a free community breakfast twice a week from Coastside Lutheran Church, and uses the produce to make breakfast.

“One of the most important things is our guests are connected to this – they get to help harvest food that is given away to lots more families,” said DeBode. “It is continuing that vision of more and more people sharing.”

Pielenz and Laven have eaten at Coastside Lutheran’s community breakfasts. Seeing her produce on the table and being taken home by farmworkers and others in need, often those who helped harvest the same food, she said: “That’s nice. It’s a personal thing.”

The farm’s relationship with Catholic Worker is a good way to work for social justice, Pielenz said, saying farmworkers in Watsonville often can’t afford the produce they are picking. Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, not only believed in living among the poor and working for peace and justice, she believed in the “connection to the land,” Pielenz said. “I love the way it’s set up now. It’s not a handout.”



From October 25, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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